Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Medical insurance problem. Help!

Today’s blog is a plea to any Germans/expats living in Germany who might be able to help with a medical insurance issue we are having.

Our daughter was born on January 20th and a few days after she was born, she had to spend a few days in the Uni Klinik. We received and paid the bill totaling almost 3000 Euros. Obviously both my husband and I are medically insured and therefore by default our daughter is/should be for this time. Yet currently all our insurance companies are refusing to pay. Who is responsible and who should foot the bill?

I am insured with a “gesetzliche Krankenversicherung” (law-enforced national  health insurance),  and my husband is privately insured. In Germany, if one of the parents is privately insured, any children also have to be. We therefore took out a private insurance for our daughter with a private insurance company where I have a so-called “Zusatzversicherung” (private supplementary insurance).I understood as long as you did this within two months of the child being born, your child is covered at all times from birth. The insurance company, however, would only insure her from February 1st, thus conventiently missing those crucial days in between and a bill of thousands of Euros! We could, of course, have insured her automatically with my husband, but he has had a lot of problems with his insurance company, so we chose not to.

We sent the bill to all three insurance companies, but so far all three are refusing to pay.

If anyone has any experience with this or any idea what to do next, please get in touch!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Monday morning blues

My Monday morning actually started well; we all slept until 8am and my toddler willingly let me dress her and she ate her muesli and drank her milk with no fuss.

Then it all went horribly wrong. I made the mistake of letting my toddler watch some cartoons as bribery for getting her to the bathroom to brush her teeth and to keep the peace while dealing with a sick, snotty, crying baby. Toddler then of course refused to turn off said cartoons and howled as I put her shoes and jacket on to go downstairs to the car.

It was bucketing down with rain outside. Yes, it’s May and it’s still raining. My rain jacket was in the car. I struggled down three flights of stairs; crying baby in one arm and stroppy toddler in the other, refusing to walk, because her sister was being carried. We made a mad dash for the car, but we all still got soaking wet.

Screaming baby and sulky toddler in the back, I then hit the motorway just in time for rush hour; traffic was heavy and people drive oh so very badly in the pouring rain. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Radio Regenbogen announced that the RNV (transport network) here in Heidelberg was striking today, so there was a huge traffic jam to enter Heidelberg.

At this point, running late for both nursery drop off and the doctor’s appointment for sick baby afterwards, I finally arrived outside the nursery to find no parking. Thank you very much striking bus drivers and rain. I parked what seemed like miles away and yet again, my toddler refused to walk. Toddler in one arm, heavy car seat and baby in other, we walked to nursery in the pouring rain.  Toddler then conveniently decided she didn’t want to go to nursery today and refused to enter. After some more kicking and screaming, I eventually coaxed her in and sick, screaming baby and I braved the rain again and drove to the doctor’s.

My Monday morning blues continued. There was no parking outside the doctor’s surgery. We entered the underground parking and had to drive right down to the bottom floor to find a place. We headed for the lift. The lift was broken. I climbed another three flights of stairs and finally made it to the doctor’s surgery where I had to immediately perform an emergency feed and nappy change. The diagnosis: poor sick baby has a double ear infection and two perforated ear drums.

Here’s hoping for a better afternoon! 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Nationality nightmares

Never in a million years did I ever think I would hear myself saying that I wish our daughters had rights to German citizenship. I was always more than adamant that they should be British and Spanish; just like us.

As a family, we are very much citizens of Europe. I am a British citizen (to one Scottish and one English parent), born in Belgium. My husband is a Spanish citizen, born in Spain. Our daughters were both born in Germany. I assumed that, by default, our children would both be entitled to all three nationalities and be able to choose their preferred European nationality at the age of 18. How wrong was I!

Our daughters, despite being born in Germany, are not entitled to the German nationality. German nationality law is based on jus sanguinis. Citizenship is not determined by place of birth in this case, but by having one or both parents who are citizens of the German nation. You can naturalise as a German citizen if you have been resident in Germany for at least eight years and possess adequate knowledge of German, etc. Only then, after renouncing to your existing nationality (Germany does not allow dual nationality, can both you, your spouse and your children apply for citizenship. This contrasts with jus solis: right of soil, which is applicable in the UK, meaning you are automatically entitled to British citizenship if you were born there.  

Neither my husband nor I have been living for eight consecutive years in Germany, so getting our hands on German passports for ourselves or our children is a no go. No problem, we thought. When our first daughter was born, we got her a Spanish passport. My husband would say this was by choice; I say it was because it was cheap! Registration and a new Spanish passport at the time cost a mere 16 Euros. British registration and passport on the other hand was going to cost a massive 300 Euros. The process was quick and efficient and we had the passport within a month of our first daughter’s birth.

Two years on with the birth of our second daughter, we wrongly assumed the process would be similar. We not only need a new passport for our newborn, but a passport renewal for our older daughter, whose passport has run out after two years. My husband phoned the Spanish consulate to get an appointment to apply for the passports. The earliest date he was offered was the end of May and the passports would then arrive in July sometime. Due to the crisis and cuts, the process now takes 4 months! This obviously isn’t really an issue if you don’t want to travel, but we want to go to the UK before July and we planned to fly to Spain.

No problem, we thought, third time lucky, we’ll just apply for the British one instead. I phoned the consulate in D├╝sseldorf and was referred to the UK Border Agency. I then found out just how complicated British nationality law is. Because I was born abroad, I got my British citizenship by descent. This type of citizenship cannot be passed down to your children when they are also born abroad. My daughters therefore have to apply for British citizenship and be accepted before any passport can be issued; a process which takes around 4 months.

So, ironically, despite theoretically being entitled to three different European nationalities, two of the countries have rejected us and the third won’t give us a passport until the middle of the year. Luckily there is a (painful) solution and that is to drive 16 hours to where my husband was last resident in Spain and apply for the DNI (Spanish ID cards) which allow travel within Europe.

I am left with a couple of open questions. What would have happened if my husband had also been born abroad; would my children be stateless within a “united” Europe? Are all three nationalities really equal at the end of the day or does one give you more rights than the other? Perhaps the answers lie in an independent Scotland. Forget about Germany, Spain, and Great Britain. Forget about Europe.  Vote Yes Scotland, and become Scottish instead! 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Thank you, Frau Merkel

I am due to give birth to my second child at any moment now, so it seems like an appropriate time to 1. Blog while I still have the time and 2. Thank Frau Merkel for giving me some (paid) time off work in order to look after my newborn.

Since coming to power, Merkel has been focused on Germany’s low birth rate, which stands at 1.3 children per woman (the replacement rate should ideally be 2.1). Figures show that a third of German women are not having children and among graduates the figure is as high as 40% (Merkel herself included!) Perhaps this is due to the fact that University in Germany takes so long to complete – the average German student is in their late twenties by the time they finish, so finding a job and establishing a career take priority. Also, German society still very much expects women to stay at home to look after their family. Housewives get medical insurance through their working husbands and husbands, in turn, enjoy tax advantages for having wives without jobs. Childcare is inadequate and expensive. There is even a term in German for those bad, uncaring mums who selfishly return to work – “Rabenmutter” (raven mother).

In Germany, the allowances for maternity and parental leave are fantastic. The monetary benefits are good, but not really much different to other countries if you consider that we pay around 48% tax and expect some return on our money. The best thing is the time and the protection you are given. Where else can you take up to 3 years off to look after your child (as a mother OR a father) and still be guaranteed a job to come back to?

Every woman is basically entitled to 6 weeks before the birth and 8 weeks after the birth on full pay (the so-called “Mutterschutz” maternity leave). After that, mothers and fathers can take 14 months PAID “Elternzeit” (parental leave) and choose how to split the months between them. During this time, you receive 65% of your basic net salary, but no more than 1800 Euros in total (the so-called "Elterngeld"). Even if you haven’t been working, you are still entitled to at least 300 Euros pay during the first 14 months. In total, mothers and fathers can take up to 3 years UNPAID parental leave and can even split the parental leave period into two – deferring one year of time up until the child’s sixth birthday. The flexibility is amazing, particularly for fathers.  

And I’m still not finished…

If you have two children under the age of three, you are paid a “Geschwisterbonus” (sibling bonus) of 150 Euros net a month. Every child is also paid 180 Euros “Kindergeld” (child benefit) until the age of 18, regardless of income.

Are there any catches? Not really. Just be sure to get all the relevant paperwork filled out on time – there are separate forms for everything and they take time and patience to fill out. Also, beware that the Elterngeld (14 months pay) counts as household income and the tax man will catch up with you at the end of the year!

Despite all this time and money being thrown at young families, Merkel's measures paradoxically haven't had much effect on the birth rate and have simply cost the government millions. There is now talk of scrapping the parental leave. But, luckily this won’t affect me and so, vielen Dank, Frau Merkel, for what is my second round of German maternity/parental leave!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Walk into the front door of any German house and you will be confronted with shoes. Shoes, shoes, and more shoes. Shelves with shoes of all kinds; Birkenstocks, Jack Wolfskin hiking boots, trainers, and of course, the essential Hausschuhe – or house shoes. More often than not, there is no space inside a German flat for all the shoes required, so they tend to overspill into the communal corridor outside the flat. Yes, you will often see shelves all the way up to the ceiling in corridors stacked with shoes.

In Germany, it is of utmost importance to have the right kind of shoes for the right kind of weather. Be prepared, be sensible, be practical. A requirement at my daughter’s nursery, for example, is that she has her “Gummistiefel” (welly boots), her winter boots, and her Hausschuhe with her on a daily basis and I see the advantages – for one, the weather here is extremely unpredictable, so it is always best to have the different options at hand.

Hausschuhe are indeed perhaps the most practical of shoes I have ever come across. The concept makes complete sense; you get home, take off your outdoor shoes and put on your indoor ones. I like the concept of going round to other people’s houses and respecting their home by taking your shoes off (although it does require a certain amount of forward planning with regard to wearing clean, matching, non-holey socks). Hausschuhe keep your feet warm in the winter and the floors clean. Many Germans opt for the Birkenstock variety, but you can basically choose what you want as long as you have a designated pair of house shoes that you, under no circumstances, wear outside.

My daughter’s first pair of Hausschuhe were bright pink and had little glittery butterflies on them – they were so cute that all the other children in the nursery wanted to touch them and take them off, making her very possessive of and, dare I say, obsessed with her house shoes.  

I will never forget the time I came home from my pilates class and walked into her bedroom with my trainers on. She was sitting on her changing table reading a bedtime story with her Daddy. She immediately stopped what she was doing, looked down at my feet, pointed, and said “Hausschuhe!” I didn’t know until then that the word existed in her vocabulary. The mere fact that the word Hausschuhe was the second word I had ever heard her utter in German, second only to “nein”, highlights the importance of house shoes in German society.

Walk into our house these days and don’t expect to be greeted with a hello, cuddle or a kiss. If you dare walk past the shelf of shoes in the house (yes, we have one, too) with your outdoor shoes on, be prepared for a little voice to pipe up: “Hausschuhe!” 

Monday, 24 December 2012

A brief hiatus

Some of you may have noticed I have been MIA over the past few weeks. Highland Nomad has been very busy moving house and is now installed in the suburbs of Heidelberg (something I swore I would never, ever do) – in an exciting place called Walldorf. You have all heard of Walldorf, right?! Just in case you haven’t, Walldorf is famous for headquartering the world’s fourth largest software company, and is also the birthplace of John Jacob Astor, creator of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Waldorf salad. It seems a very quiet and civilized little community, although it is hard to tell as it’s been snowing and very cold since moving here and most Germans tend to hibernate during the winter months anyway.

Speaking of hibernation, I went round to say goodbye to our next door neighbours in Heidelberg  the other day and they said how they had been meaning to invite us over and return our invitation (they came over for drinks two years ago), had “somehow” not got round to doing so (yes, yes, whatever), but that we should organise something for the summer. What is wrong with winter? Kaffee and Kuchen anyone? My guess is we’ll never see them again. It reminded me of other German “friends” of ours, who came over for our daughter’s birthday in January. Upon leaving, they said “see you next year then!” It’s a concept of friendship that I will never understand.  

Back to moving house. Moving house is stressful at the best of times, wherever you live and whatever your circumstances. It becomes even more stressful at 8 months pregnant with a tantrum-throwing-two-year-old-Tochter.  Anyway, the week of our move kicked off with the arrival of two bills. The first one: a yearly tax bill for 700 Euros. It turns out that no matter at which point during the year you sell your flat in Germany, be it January or December, you are still liable for paying the property tax and then claiming this back from the new owners (if you can be bothered with the hassle and probably ensuing court-case battle, that is). Luckily, in our case, this only meant paying one extra month, so Highland Nomad remained calm. The second: a bill for 100 Euros from the Hausverwaltung (house management company) for the role they played in in selling our property. Come again? I did phone up to query what they actually did, but apparently, as always, this is documented somewhere in some contract in the tiniest, tiniest of prints. Highland Nomad huffed a bit and reluctantly paid.  

Next, a phone call from our removal company to say that they could not move us in as planned on Friday, because of the Christmas markets and Walldorf town council would not permit trucks to park in the main street. Our stuff was then loaded on Friday, kept in storage for the weekend, and unloaded on Monday. Picture the coldest weekend of the year so far, with snow, and us “camping” in our new flat over the weekend. It turned out we could have stayed in the old flat over the weekend, because our buyers “forgot” to transfer a third of the money. Not to worry, we thought, this is why we paid an estate agent and a notary thousands of Euros to step in and help us out. No, silly me, once the sale has gone through, the estate agent has no further interest in you or your property. The notary was also unwilling to act on our behalf, so it was up to us to summon our most polite, but to-the-point German and phone the buyers and deal with the bank and interest payments resulting in the late payment. In the meantime, we were dealing with a handover for our new rental accommodation in Walldorf. The family left rubbish in the cellar and even lost one of the front door keys.

Things could definitely only get better. So, once our belongings arrived on Monday and we handed over our old flat on Tuesday, Highland Nomad could finally put her feet up with a cup of tea (wishing it was something a LOT stronger) to celebrate her relief that it was all over (apart from the unpacking), at no longer being a homeowner in Germany and revel in the prospect of never having to attend another Eigent├╝merversammlung (homeowner’s annual meeting) again in her life. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Find the chickpeas!

There are an endless number of variations to the “Find the chickpeas” game in Germany. You can replace “chickpeas” with basically anything you are looking to find in a supermarket, or any shop for that matter. The aim of the game is to find what you are looking for; in my case this morning: chickpeas! There is no limit on the number of players, but the game does require patience and time.

My husband and I love curries, so I decided to make a chickpea curry for dinner this evening. For the recipe, I needed two tins of chickpeas. Being pushed for time (I had 20 minutes to shop before my husband had to leave for the airport), I decided to brave the Kaufland supermarket, because in Kaufland I know exactly where to find the chickpeas. Today, however, there wasn’t a chickpea in sight; just an empty shelf where the chickpeas should have been. My curry dinner at stake; the challenge was on.  I had to find the chickpeas.

Let the game begin!

I was convinced there must be someone in the shop, who knew where the chickpeas were. So, the aim of the game was to find a shop assistant, who was 1, willing to help and 2, actually could help.

I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task, but I was full of energy and up for the challenge. It took me a while to locate some uniformed workers. Finally, in the fruit and vegetables section, I saw two ladies deep in conversation. I approached at my own peril, knowing full well that normally I should allow the conversation to finish before daring to interrupt. But, under time pressure, I approached with caution and politely asked for help.  “That is not our section. Go to the lady around the corner.”

I giggled to myself; this is all part of the fun. Off I headed, in search of the lady around the corner; not sure around which corner, but again, deciphering cryptic clues is all part of the fun. I found her in the cereal section. She looked friendly and at least stopped what she was doing to hear my question. I realized by her hesitant, broken German that she was a foreigner, too, and didn’t have a clue what I was saying or what a “Kirchererbse” (chickpea) was. A dead end after all. But not to worry; it’s still all just part of the game.

My spirits still high, off I went in search of another employee. I found her in the toiletries section. She stopped what she was doing AND she understood the word chickpea. “I don’t know where to find them, but wait a minute.” Off she went and came back with a male co-worker, dressed in a shirt and tie. I had struck gold! He was clearly some kind of floor manager. He informed me that they weren’t stocking their usual brand of chickpeas at the moment. My heart sunk. “But, come with me,” he said, “there are other brands.” Sure enough, it turned out I only had to look behind some tins of green beans and hey presto, there they were – the chickpeas! Game completed in a record 10 minutes!  

And so that’s how you play “Find the chickpeas.” Like I said, it’s a very versatile game and can be applied to just about any shop in Germany. Give it a try for yourself; you’ll be amazed at how much fun you can have!